23 March 2007

Music Video


It’s been quiet on the blog front this week, since we had a week of ‘self-directed study’ to complete a music video. This was mainly an editing exercise to get all those of us who have never used Final Cut Pro into the editing room and in front of a computer. There were a few days scheduled for pre-production, and a week for shooting, and only two days for editing, but we could divide our time any way we wanted. So I made a decision early on that I wanted to use mostly footage I already had rather than shoot more. I also wanted to make sure that the film, when completed, could be submitted to the local music film festival - ‘Handle the Jandal’. I found Kieran, a part of ‘Mr. Sterile Assembly’, a ska-punk band from Wellington.

I loved the political aspect of their music and thought it would fit well with the footage I shot at the anti-rape demo a few weeks ago. Capturing the demo footage and some concert footage that I managed to get a few days ago was easy. Then came the footage from my gall stone operation 2 years ago, which I was planning to overlay, and that’s where things got a bit trickier. The footage had been captured by the teaching surgeon through the camera he used for the micro surgery and saved to mpg2 format on a DVD. In order to mix this in I had to transcode it into HDV to match the other footage. Luckily there was no audio to deal with, and I was planning to only use the footage as an overlay. One big thing I learnt from this exercise is to make masks in Photoshop to use in FCP.

I wanted to split the screen into three parts, but with ragged edges rather than the straight sharp edges which result from cropping. After a few hits and misses I actually found it quite easy to make a black and white image, import it into FCP, where all the layers show up inside a sequence, and to drop each layer into the Image Mask filter applied to a clip. The other thing I tried as to use different blending modes to layer the footage, specially to make the op footage less gory looking. Anyway, thanks to Kieran and Mr. Sterile Assembly for letting me use their music, enjoy (also available on YouTube):

21 March 2007


NZBlogPhoto12-2007-03-21-04-13.jpeg Tonight we attended a discussion with Chris Graham, the director of the upcoming horror movie The Ferryman, in the hallowed halls of Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post offices. Highlights, apart from the very illuminating talk was the incredible - screening room is such an inadequate term - movie theatre which is part of the facility. If someone gave me unlimited funds to build the perfect cinema, it would be pretty close to this. Glamorous, kitschy, OTT, shiny, chic, exotic, glitzy, all that and the perfect place for someone who obviously wants to live in the movies. Then we spotted an real-life (well, as much as a statue can be called alive) Oscar™ Park Road Post got for sound design on King Kong. V. cool. Here he is, if a bit blurry:

13 March 2007

A visit to Avalon studios

NZBlogPhoto11-2007-03-13-03-12.jpeg A trip to the TVNZ studios out in Hutt to watch the filming of The Killian Curse, part 2. This kid’s horror story is being filmed in and around Wellington. We watched some on-set filming of a fight sequence. Our task was to identify the various roles of director, 1st A.D., gaffer, DoP, etc. While there we also got to look in on one of the editors and ask lots of nosy questions. I can’t say i was too gripped by the working environment, a lot of it seemed very 9-5, not at all inspiring.

07 March 2007

WIFT documentary meeting

Today I had the opportunity to attend a WIFT (Women in Film and Television) meeting to discuss the future of documentary funding in New Zealand. The meetings (or hui) took place in Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington to get the views of documentary filmmakers from across the country on the best way to make use of the current interest in documentary. WIFT provided a great list of background reading covering the history of doc film making in NZ and Australia as well as a range of reports and facts.

 The one-day event in Wellington was chaired by Gaylene Preston and attended by 40-odd people - men and women - involved in doc film making as directors and producers as well as some people from the funding side (NZFC and CNZ) and TV. We spent the morning discussing the obstacles we face as doc film makers in NZ and the afternoon finding possible solutions. Our table (one of four) consisted of a good range of people covering every aspect of film making (and then some). There was a producer, a couple of independent directors, someone who worked in TV as well as a researcher and a web developer.

We found that there were initially two areas that needed to be discussed separately: broadcast and non-broadcast films. While some people were focussed primarily on creating content for TV and had much to say about the attendant problems regarding commissioning editors and such, there was another strand of people who - either because they were frustrated with the problems of making docs for TV or because their docs were never intended for broadcast - were looking into other areas of distribution. As far as broadcast documentaries were concerned, the biggest obstacle to getting our stuff onto the small screen seemed to be the perceived ‘gate keepers’, also called the programmer and the commissioning editor.

The population of New Zealand apparently loves to read books and loves to watch documentaries. The problem is that NZ TV rarely schedules documentaries in any prime slots, because advertisers prefer fiction (and imported fiction at that). This means that the public is not getting what they want and doc makers have no access to their audience. Another problem related to non-broadcast docs: it was very difficult, if not impossible, to find funding.

Neither the Film Commission nor Creative NZ have a fund for documentary films, although they have been funding docs through the screen innovation fund (even though it is not specifically targeted at docs). For feature documentaries there is a lack of development funding, meaning that the up-front work of research that could be funded if it was a fiction script, has to be borne by the individual film maker. The same applies to post-production funding, where completion is often difficult to get funding for.

The slow funding rounds that do exist are often an additional problem, as the nature of doc subjects means that they don’t always wait around for the funding to come through. Marketing, distribution and specially non-traditional channels like new media and the internet are an important and problematic aspect of doc film making. The concept of the Long Tail promises that there is an audience for our films out there, if we can just get our product to them, but there is a lack of infrastructure ranging from the broadband caps implemented by ISPs to non-existent doc distributors in NZ. This means even if we get to finish our projects, it may not always be possible to get them out into the World.

 Every now and then the discussion would come round to the basic principles of doc film making. Gaylene Preston said that “documentaries are the backbone of NZ film making. It started that way and it remains that way.” People considered their role as recorders of culture and history, and felt that this role was undervalued. There seemed to be a decline in long-form story telling and while there was some value in making films about the NZ experience, there was too little support for film makers who want to look at the rest of the World from a NZ point of view. Tim O’Brien from the NZ Film Commission pointed out how “gigantically ahead” Australia was of NZ where support for doc film making is concerned. He felt that New Zealand’s digital strategy has not involved film makers and therefore there were many obstacles for local film makers to get their films seen by the rest of the World. He suggested that marketing nowadays has to build in digital components when planning film distribution.

 Some of the solutions that appeared in the afternoon included direct sales to circumvent traditional distributors, although it was acknowledged that funding bodies such as NZFC and CNZ need a digital as well as a documentary strategy. There was the suggestion that the NZ Trade and Enterprise’s “Export Year 2007” initiative could be used to foster ways to find a wider audience for documentaries. There was a call to set up pitching sessions with TVNZ and to lobby NZ On Air to not require that a broadcaster be already attached to a project for funding to be released (although there are legal issues with NZOA’s remit). A quota such as exists in Australia could ensure that locally made projects could get a screening.

The biggest support existed for the setting up of a documentary film fund along the lines of the FC film fund. It should fund docs made for cinematic release that could find an international audience. 

The day was hugely educational for me as a newbie to the local doc film industry. It was also a little mystifying at times that there should be such a lack of confidence in the universal appeal of local subjects, the local view on World issues or even on films made by local film makers that had nothing to do with NZ. If it’s a good story, then it should find an audience and support, regardless of it being a NZ subject or not, made by a NZ or not, made in NZ or not.

NZ has a great opportunity with the advent of new distribution methods to get its films out of the corner of the World we are in and to satisfy international interest in NZ. Watch out for the report and meeting notes on the WIFT website (sometime in May)!

05 March 2007

Wellington Portrait


This week’s practical project was to create a portrait of Wellington. The brief made it clear that what is required is a personal view of Wellington rather than a cover-all tourist information type film. This is the last project where we are editing in-camera, and this can’t be over too soon for me. While the project is helping us focus on planning and pre-visualising our idea, scout locations, think about sequences and shot framing, I am just stressing about the practical problems of not being able to be frame accurate in-camera.

So, when I started thinking about what Wellington means to me as someone who only arrived 8 months ago, the first things that sprang to mind were: wind and sport. Wind, breezes, storms, gusts, all manners of moving air were the bane and fascination of my early days here. I had no idea that it is possible to be lifted up by a gust of wind while dashing across a road, or that I could worry about the house falling down from the howling storm round our bedroom. The many wind activities round town: kite surfing, sailing, etc, made me think about the other peculiarities I had noticed about Wellington: Everyone is sporty! Whether that’s kayaking, swimming, running, cycling or surfing, dragon boating or indoor climbing, hiking or cricket, rugby or diving, everyone is doing it.

I actually started shooting some footage round this theme but then came upon my final idea. My mum said that you can’t say you’ve been to Wellington unless you sat in Cuba Street and watched the people go past. It’s true, there is nowhere where there is such a range of interesting, strange, unusual or just friendly people than on Cuba Street. So I spent some time scouting for a location and thinking about the kind of shots I was looking for. I wanted to concentrate on the character of people, not just what they dressed like or what they did. I also wanted to really concentrate on the essence of each individual in a way we don’t normally do.

When I had come up with my idea, I shot some test footage to get the lighting and camera position right (although in retrospect I should have used a diffuser for the strong sunlight we had on the shooting day), as well as trying out a range of frames. On shooting day I had the help of Sara, Annie and Stuart (thanks!) to wrangle my subjects and help with the lighting (actually just a reflector to balance the strong shadows). We found lots of willing victims and then it was just a matter to judge the length of time to shoot each of them. I judged this in the view finder until it felt that it was time to look at the next person, and that was different for each face. Here is the result:

02 March 2007

Eternal Sunshine ... a review

NZBlogPhoto8-2007-03-2-04-00.jpeg Every Friday someone screens a movie they love and talks about it. This week Sophie screened “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and wrote a brilliant review, which she kindly lets me publish below. read on:
I chose this film because it is one of my all time favourite films. When I came out of the cinema I was inspired. I wanted to be able to make films like that. I thought it was clever, strange, but over all brilliant, it’s one of those films that makes you go ‘ohhhhh’ half-way through when you realise what’s actually going on. It challenges you to think about what you’re watching; you cannot be a passive observer mindlessly starring at the moving images in front of you. It successfully mixes genres of drama romance comedy and sci-fi into one well-crafted film, a rarity in filmmaking. It follows the classic plain boy meets quirky girl, boy and girl like each other, boy loses girl then boy gets girl and twists it completely. If we were to put the film in chronological order it starts at near the end of the film and goes backwards through the character of Joels memories showing his and Clementine’s relationship end to beginning, and then beginning again. The film is essentially about relationships. The tagline reads ‘You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart is another story’. We see Clementine and Joel both make impulsive decisions to erase each other from their memory, neither taking the time to realize what they were doing, or how they really felt until it was too late to get the memories back. But what is not realized by the scientists or the characters is that emotion runs much deeper than just memory. It is a part of us and is in our subconscious. We see this during the relationship between Patrick and Clementine. She freaks out when Patrick imitates Joel and his words. She doesn’t understand why the words are affecting her so much, but we know it’s because they are triggering the love she has for Joel. This subconscious feeling is how Joel and Clementine are able to meet again. They are both drawn back to Montauk, the place where they met and fell in love. Love for a person is imbedded in their subconscious. This is also shown in the subplot relationship of Howard and Mary. Even though Mary had all memory of their relationship erased, this didn’t stop her from feeling the way she did about him. This also gives more explanation to why Clementine and Joel are drawn back to each other. They are in love; they just don’t realize it. The film was directed be Michel Gondry and combined many elements not seen before. It shows a romance but combined with the reverse narrative and the sci-fi element of memory erasure makes the film very innovative. Michel Gondry, who also did my one of my favourite music videos ‘Everlong’ by the Foo Fighters, has also directed music videos for the Rolling Stones, Radiohead, Lenny Kravitz, White Stripes, Chemical Brothers, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Gary Jules and even directed Steriograms ‘Walkie Talkieman’. He got his start in making music videos and also commercials and has gone on to make eight feature films, eternal sunshine being his fifth. Not only is he a director, he is a cinematographer, producer, actor, musician and writer. He co-wrote Eternal Sunshine with Pierre Bismuth and Charlie Kauffman, with Charlie Kauffman doing the screenplay that is known for Adaptation and Being John Malkovich. I think the script is beautifully written. I love lines like “sand is overrated it’s just tiny little rocks” and “Valentines day is a holiday invented by greeting card companies to make people feel like crap”. The thought of writing a script like that overwhelms me. It is as fresh and original as some of his other screenplays, but adds a romantic depth that is unlike any other. He chooses to dazzle us with the complexities of the human mind and all of its glorious possibilities. He is a master storyteller. Ellen Kuras is the cinematographer. I think one of the most beautiful scenes is the one at the parade, which I later found out was shot spontaneously. They heard the parade was on so decided to go down and shoot something; it ended up working well, so they used it. She is able to create an atmospheric, almost surreal feeling to the film, and often uses smoke in the room to create warmth as it captures the light of the room. She has falsely created a feeling of early morning as the sun hits the smoke comes through the window in beams. This is one of my favourite scenes with Clem and Joel in their bedroom under the duvet. This and the use of close ups under the duvet gives it such an intimate feeling. Some techniques I would like to try out in my films. The special effects are by Mark Bero, Brent Elkstrand and Drew Jirianto. They are well integrated to show each of Joel’s memories being erased. We see it starting to deconstruct with cars crashing from the sky, locations merging into one, for example when we see Joel at the library, then the library shuts down as he exits into Rob and Carrie’s house. We see faces distorted, people and objects fade and disappear, and houses collapse. All of these effects make it believable and feasible that we are truly seeing a persons memory being erased. We are also able to clearly distinguish between the memory erasing scenes and the real time of the film. I thought the music in the film was also very effective; the original music was by Jon Brion. Oddly it was in some parts where there was dialogue and then not used in the silences in between. The music selected helps to give the film a quirky off beat type of feeling. It also helps with the flow of the film; linking the memory scenes to the real time of the film with aural bridges. The performances of Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey are fantastic. Both are breaking out of some form of type casting with these roles. Kate Winslet, who before this often was cast in period pieces plays the arty eccentric type, normally a role associated with Jim Carrey but in this film he is the quieter, far more reserved of the two. Kate Winslet was even nominated for a Academy award for her role. The film earned two Academy award nominations, the second for best screenplay and won it. The film achieved critical success. It was nominated for 48 awards and won 32 of them. The film also achieved relative success at the box office: it cost 20 million to make, and made 34 million from the US alone, which was at least doubled by the international audience. This film has left a strong impression on me, every time I see it if find something that I hadn’t seen before. I think it is original, clever, witty, and sweet. After watching it I found the genres of film I wanted to keep watching. I felt like I had found my taste in film.

01 March 2007

Techie Toys

This was a techie week. We had three sessions with people who talked us through the basic kit we’ll be needing on a shoot - camera, lights, action (sorry: sound). Charles Edwards, Waka Atwell and Nic McGowann respectively ran us past the pitfalls and gave us a basic understanding of the practical aspects of film making.

Since it was pretty hands-on, here just a few tips/highlights:

Camera Things to remember when setting up the tripod: 

★ make it level
★ make sure the plate is attached securely to both the camera and the tripod - cameras are expensive and break easily when dropped
★ set movement and tension to your liking
★ set the dioptre in the viewfinder to your eye strength. Glasses and view finders don’t mix well. Things to remember when setting up the camera:
★ white balance!!!!!
★ set gain, remember that this increases noise in the image
★ zoom in on the subject and focus, then zoom to the proper frame
★ frame the shot
★ check exposure - use zebra in camera to determine best skin tone (80%)
★ set to 25fps and cinelook if film look is required Lighting “The DoP fills in the white spaces in the script” Things to remember when lighting:
★ make it consistent
 ★ make it look like it’s not lit
★ bring the audience into your world with lighting
★ the audience expects light to come naturally from above eye level
★ use a blue filter to create a night-time effect
★ for interviews try a variation on the three-point lighting set-up: put the fill light on the same side as the key light, close to the camera, bouncing off the ceiling. This fills in the shadows left by the key light, but leaves some shadows on the off-side of the subjects face and makes it look a little more mysterious. Sound Things to remember when doing sound:
★ sound is measured in frequency (pitch - high or low sounds) and amplitude (volume - loud or quiet sounds)
★ masking uses two identical sounds that cancel each other out by putting one out of phase with the other.
★ Don’t lay power cables next to sound cables, if they have to cross, lay them at right angles. You will get distortion and interference otherwise.
★ A radio mic is skewed towards high frequencies to cover up rustles and chest sounds.
★ Make sure you you schedule tech time to get used to equipment, to make sure it’s all in working order and you know how to operate it.
★ In shooting situations with noisy backgrounds point the mic straight at the ground to even out the noise levels that that might change when moving the mic between actors (the noise background might be different, e.g. sea on one side, airport on the other).
★ Keep notes of lines that weren’t covered properly during the shoot, so you can capture wild lines later on. When doing wild lines, make sure the mic is in the same position so that the line will cut with the other ones.
★ Get any necessary effect shots on set, e.g. cars on a race track in the background, to use over close-ups.
 ★ Use plenty of atmospheric sounds (atmos). Remember to put the mic in the same place as it was in the shot. Try to get at least a minute. If you think background sounds are changing, e.g. school playground, call for a break to record atmos rather than leaving it to the end of the shoot. Get more than one atmos tracks if necessary.
★ To cut out background sounds, point the mic downwards, as earth and bodies absorb sound. If this is not possible, point it at the sky (unless there are planes overhead).